Jomhūrī-ye Eslāmī-ye Īrān - Islamic Republic of Iran
For more info on the country see this Wikipedia article.
It is dark as I arrive in Orumyieh and the driving is chaotic. Cars without lights and the intersections are just like in India. I had forgotten... I ask directions to a hotel and get sent in all directions. I end up in an expensive 4-star place where I have my first experience with the complicated money they have. The room is 65$ or 57 Tomans, or is it Rials? I ask for Rials and he says 57000. I can't believe this, so I count out 55000. Nono, much more. He points to his calculator which says 57000, but he means 570000. When I show him a 10000 note he insists that this is 1000. Eventually we settle for 45$, still a lot more than what I want to pay, but I don't feel like riding around in the dark any more. Later I hear German voices in the corridor and I meet a German construction technician, who tells me a little about how the place works. He also says that he doens't get to do much sightseeing any more, too much pressure from customers and compnay alike. The Money Religion demands another sacrifice. He thinks that it will snow here in about two weeks time.
7/11 It's fine and cold. I attempt to find an interesting old church in town, but I can't relate the Farsi map to reality. All I manage to achieve is to ask directions to a petrol staion and find it. Fill 'er up: about 1.5 Euro worth - for about 20 litres. 800 Rials/l = 7 cents/l! Using compass and sun to get my bearings I head East out of town, towards the big salt lake. I have decided to let the wind and he sn guide me for now. I have a few days to kill until my parts arrive (hopefully) at Mehdi's place in Karaj, near Tehran. The scenery is barren, but grandiose: I'm about in the middle of a plain, surrounded by mountains on just about all sides. In the East and West the mountains are snow-capped. Once Iget out of town there is almost no traffic any more, but signs indicating the distance to Tabriz. The road soon joins a bigger one and then heads on a causeway straight into the lake.Tabriz. There, I manage to buy a primitive roadmap in Farsi only, but at least now I can see where there are roads. I can always write the English names of larger towns on it myself. Wanting to check the official exchange rate for Euros I step into a bank. All they understand is "change money". I get taken by the hand and taken to another bank, from there to another. They still don't understand that I just want to check the rate. "Passport please." "Now give me your money!" I relent and hand over 60 €, which I wanted to change anyway. Later I stop to ask some people for a hotel, they tell me to follow them, jump in their car and take me there. Nice place, but a little expensive, so I take a room next door for about half the price (10 €). It seems that just about everything here is dirt cheap, except accommodation. On the internet the German weather page wetteronline.de is inaccessible, a message in Farsi informs me that access to this site is forbidden. Why nobody knows. Maybe it contains the word Israel somewhere and that triggers the Ayatollah filter.
Babak on the left
8/11 I spend most of the day with a migraine and with Babak, whom I meet in an internet cafe. He has taught himself German quite passably in only 4 months and is trying to study in Germany. He shows me around the town a little. I meet some young people who think that Iran is stuffed due to its regime. One even admits not to have a religion (punishable by death, I believe). When Babak and a friend wait for me in the hotel entrance the manager tells them that a foreigner shouldn't walk in the streets with locals, it would cause political problems... My parts haven't even been sent yet, so I re-route them to Stephan, a HUBB contact in Dubai.
8 saucers and glasses of chay in one hand.After that the ride gets boring, mostly along motorways to Karaj. One petrol station is signposted very well, but it doesn't exist. I leave the motorway via a dirt track to get petrol. Back on the same way. When I come to a toll station, I leave again via a dirt track (before the toll booth, of course!) to get food in the town. When I get back on at the other side of town there is another toll booth, but they just wave me through. I gather from the signs that bikes are not allowed on the motorway (or does the sign just apply to mopeds?), so there is no tariff for them. So, at the following toll stations I just don't stop, but pass through closed lanes. No-one bats an eyelid. The cops I pass look bored... Arrived in Karaj just after dark I ring Mehdi, who has invited me to stay with him. It's a tight squeeze, but we ride together on the bike to his place. Mehdi and his flatmate Hassan keep and feed me for 2 days. We go together to visit Hassan's brother's place, where he keeps racehorses and pigeons. There is also a small monkey, tied up to a fence on a rather short piece of string. He doesn't look happy at all. Mehdi takes me to Tehran to meet his boss, who is the chief editor for a travel magazine called Irania. She is a lovely and very switched-on young lady and the three of us have a long and interesting conversation. Her chief interest is how to change Iran's image abroad, to attract more visitors. I'm afraid I'm probably notmuch help in overcoming the corporate media machine that portrays Iran only as a member of the so-called "Axis of Evil". (I believe it passes through the White House and Whitehall, anyway...) Before I leave, Mehdi gets me a more detailed map, but this, too, is in Farsi only. On the motorway to Tehran a cop wants to stop me, but I see him rather late and decide to ignore him. The next 20 km to the turnoff to Esfahan I ride a lot faster, just in case he decides to chase me. He obviously didn't bother and the next cops aren't waiting for me, either. I guess I should have stopped, all cops I have encountered were very friendly so far. Kashan, where I end up in another hotel more expensive than I like, but they readily drop the price. Since prices are usually quoted in US$ I strongly suspect that I pay more than the locals, which would explain why they are so expensive. Everything else is dirt cheap in Iran. At least they have Internet, so I finialise the Turkey report. Esfahan, this time along a smaller highway which goes mainly through hill country. There are many ruined caravanserais round and when I stop to inspect one there are immediately some Iranians stopping to have a chat. It's a shame that all these places crumble away. Next is a little detour to Abianeh, marked on my map by Mehdi. This is rather high up in the mountains and it starts to drizzle. The village is all built in red brick or mud and even on the way up I notice a lot of holes and structures built into the ground. Don't know what they are for. The scenery on the way up is very nice, like oasis in the desert, which the country around here is.
Majid at the palace
16/11 I leave Majid and his mates to head into the desert. Navigation is still difficult on minor roads: I have a large-scale map in English that doesn't show enough detail and a small-scale map in Farsi that I can't read well. So it's no surprise that the first turn off the main highway I take isn't the right one, but that turns out to be lucky, because the road soon ends here:Na'in. The LP guide says that there are two options for staying here: in the pilgrims' room at one of the mosques or at the Tourist Inn. Although it's a tad expensive for foreigners and they won't bargain I stay there. What a wonderful place: the place is built in the traditional adobe style. I have a whole suite to myself, bedroom upstairs. It's a very romantic sort of a place. Now, if only there was someone to be romantic with it would be perfect. In the garde right outside my room there are fountains and platforms with cushions on which people sit listening to Persian music, drinking chay and smoking the waterpipe. 17/11 I have decided to head for another place recommended by HUBB users and LP alike called Ateshoni in the village of Garmeh. Finding it is easy, everybody from here on seems to know Maziar, the owner. Even in the village where I stop for lunch, over 100 km away, the local youth know him. Shortly after leaving Na'in I come across this abandoned fort.
This is not snow.
I get guided to Ateshoni and it's full. But, that is not a problem: they have more rooms in another building. There are three French couples with 3 children staying there. They are also expecting a group of 25 Iranians back from an excursion into the desert, but they don't show up by the time everybody retires to their rooms. Dinner is delicious: camel meat on rice. Did I mention Iran is not so suitable for vegetarians? If Allah wanted us to be vegetarians, then why are all animals made of meat?
Ateshoni, means sitting around fire in some old language
View from the roof
These two four-year-olds are the family pets and not in danger of becoming kebabs
18/11 As I'm preparing to leave on my walking trip, somebody invites me to come in their car, there is one place left. So, I end up with the crowd anyway and I don't regret it. First stop is a village/oasis, where some go for a short camel ride. After a spot of lunch we continue to the end of the road, at the edge of the sand desert. It's quite a sight. I walk to and up a hill in the distance. The hill is gravel with copious amounts of salt, there are dunes all around and mountains beyond. In the evening a fire is lit and the young ones party till late. It's good to see the young Iranians letting loose and enjoying themselves. The headscarves came off as soon as they got into the cars. Never mind the villagers... Nobody likes this regime and I'm told that many educated people secretely give up islam. I think the regime is in trouble.
Backyard in the oasis
The Iranian tourists enjoying the sun and the views...
... while the bemused locals look on
Doing the touristy thing